SheMag : First of all our readers would like to know about the start of your professional career?
Sameeksha Katyal :Hi, I am Sameeksha Katyal, I am a 24 year old Indian actor, writer & filmmaker. I have been involved as a writer, theatre director and actor in India and moved to the US in 2016 on a scholarship to study at Drexel University. I have been actively involved with the Chelsea Repertory Lab at the Acting Studio where I trained in Meisner Technique of Acting and have been a part of numerous off Broadway theatre festivals. In 2019, I wrote my first short film “U& Me” which I co-produced as the lead actor and also opened opportunities for fellow artists. The film was well received in film festivals, with 7 nominations, finalist award at the First Time Filmmaker Festival and the Best Film in Drama category at the BeBop Channel Content Festival. I am also a published model who has walked for numerous upcoming designers and has done a couple of NYFW campaigns. I am currently working on my first feature film under the guidance of the Director of the Playwriting Program at the Chelsea Rep Lab, and I am training in Voice, Speech and Accents under the Director of the Voice Program at the Acting Studio.
SheMag : What got you into acting & filmmaking?
Sameeksha Katyal : Being born into a conservative family in India where the only ‘real’ careers were becoming a doctor, engineer, or a chartered accountant, I always found myself as that girl with a voice, a story to tell. I struggled to earn my place in whatever I did. Early in my growing years, I was a well-ranked Tennis champion, I practiced 5-8 hours every day to gain sponsorships and maintain rankings while working through the entire academic load. It gave my parents the assurance that I can achieve anything I work towards. Then during the Asian Games trials, I got hurt. My injury was misdiagnosed which led to a gap between the bones. Two surgeries fixed the ankle but I lost my professional sports career. My interests and talents as a storyteller came to light after I went through a journey of body image issues, self-esteem, and self-worth. I wanted to experience myself as a person and found myself at a theatre camp, I expressed there through a piece they gave me to perform and got picked by a National School of Drama director. I worked with him on multiple theatre projects as an actor and a director. Filmmaking was always a dream but became a reality once I had moved to the US and saw people realizing my talent and showing interest in working with me. My family was not sure of this as a career choice for me but they are seeing the wonderful response my projects are getting and are now confident of my endeavors.
SheMag : What attracts you more, Making films or Acting ?
Sameeksha Katyal : Acting & Filmmaking is a 24/7 job, inspiration is everywhere and I like to keep my receptors on. In my experience I had to mobilize my resources for getting the most optimal storytelling results but I would say I cannot be a good actor without being a good filmmaker. As a filmmaker, I understood that storytelling is incomplete without each person in front or behind the camera, also understanding the emotional life, and the best way to portray it under the given circumstance. Acting in TV& Film, Theatre is the most elaborate form of storytelling, each camera angle, look, emotion, prop, piece of clothing, language, accent comes together simultaneously to tell the story. So, being an actor and a filmmaker together helps me approach acting roles better and be a more understanding and connected filmmaker.
SheMag : Do you have any criteria of selecting projects?
Sameeksha Katyal : As a female & person of color, I believe it to be my mission to give opportunities to actors like me and to encourage more girls and people of color to take on those challenging roles in the entertainment industry, getting those important roles and breaking the stereotypical type casting. I had to work multifolds harder to get recognition for the work than my peers in the industry. I believe in leading by example and use my social media and other platforms as a guide to empower girls and young women who want to pursue a career in acting & filmmaking in Hollywood. My brand is all about strong, independent women and their empowerment, and I have carried the same message throughout my acting roles and filmmaking endeavors.
SheMag : Tell us about your recent short movie ‘The Interview from Hell’.
Sameeksha Katyal : This idea struck us in the middle of the desperate times when I was suffering long hours at work and one of my friends, Michael Chabbler, who co-wrote this script was fired and was struggling to find a job. Michael is an upcoming playwright and he wanted to express his frustration with job hunting, the standard interview SheMags, and working alongside crazy people. I loved the idea and asked him to put a draft involving our experiences. Michael wanted to make fun of it and write dialogues that only he wishes he could say in interviews. We particularly got stuck on one mocking SheMag the interviewers love to ask: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” We wonder how managers in a capitalist society expect job applicants to have Five Year Plans. It’s especially absurd because we work in a world where anyone of us could be fired or laid off at any moment, no matter how well we are performing in our jobs. Yet, hiring managers expect to hear how we are willing to commit our lives to the firm. Additionally, when you work someplace long enough, you might have gone through a process to get your position. But then they hire some guy who’s completely insane. You wonder — ‘did he have to go through the same process I did?’ And there you are doing this person’s work or fixing his work, plus still doing yours and trying to be reasonable with someone.
Due to COVID everything was shut down, when I proposed the completion of this project everyone thought I had gone crazy. While my friends laughed it off, I was glad to have at least my team’s faith in me. We had a number of actors audition via zoom and skype but we did not find our Tom until we saw Michael explain the script to one of the actors. The look in his eyes as the character was so profound that we felt the script come alive.
SheMag: Your film ‘The Interview from Hell’ is an interesting name, any stories behind it?
Sameeksha Katyal: We shot the script during COVID on a Saturday in a private office space owned by my family friends in New Jersey with 4 people in total as cast and crew. The editing and other processing of the film became impossible. We had to connect to our network of friends in editing, adding background music and spent dozens of hours finessing it to submit to film festivals. It took us 2.5 months from March to May to complete post production and the first week of June we started submitting it to the film festivals.The film title was workshopped tirelessly until I realized that a dialogue from Eve in the story best describes the film. The pandemic which then followed gave the title that interesting edge of how people are going through their own version of hell during these hard times, hence, ‘The Interview from Hell’.
SheMag : Your short movie ‘The Interview from Hell’ has done the wonders. You must be excited?
Sameeksha Katyal : We love the responses we are receiving. We experienced a great response when we read the script at different playwriting events. It seems people are feeling the fun-weirdness of our story. What amazed us was that “The Interview from Hell” was the most-watched film for 3 straight weeks at Direct Monthly Online Film Festival and was voted the winner of the Best Audience Choice Award, Public Choice award & Best Short Film at different festivals. We are still nominated for awards at a dozen international film festivals. This is unexpected and exciting and I personally have so much gratitude for everyone who is taking the time out to watch and vote for our short film.
SheMag : The best character you have played so far as an actor? In contrast, what is the worst character you have played?
Sameeksha Katyal : All my acting experiences have been unique and memorable but one that I will remember forever wasan off Broadway Festival. I performed as the lead Dorie in the play “Tell Dorie not to cry”, and on stage, I could feel the power of the performance with a change in energy of my audience, I could feel the complete silence and hear the sniffles of my audience. After the performance I had a number of people walk up to me to hug me and tell me they felt some memories re-lived during the performance. It warmed my heart to just think I connected with these people through my performance. It is my biggest pride as an actor. My acting teacher saw the play and he said, he had never seen me live as alive as he saw in the performance.
I don’t think there are any worst roles because as an actor, even to play a negative- villain character, I have to connect to the character’s life state, not judge them for their bad actions but justify those actions as if I performed them myself.
Hence, I would say the only time anyone can have a bad performance is when they are not doing justice to their character by connecting and coming alive in the performance.
SheMag : You’ve been interviewed so many times what’s the one question you wished someone would have asked you, but never did?
Sameeksha Katyal : This is a tough question but I’d say maybe my contribution outside my acting and filmmaking world. Even though Acting & Filmmaking is a 24/7 job, with my experiences, other than acting & filmmaking, I judge talent hunts, write for magazines or online newspapers, and use my social media and website to Sameeksha Katyal SheMags and guide young women who want to pursue a career in modeling, acting and filmmaking. I am an invited member on the Board of the Phoenix Productions and Z’De Films Co. I am also a ‘Women in Business’ at Drexel University where I help my mentees with networking and entrepreneurship. I have volunteered with UN and contributed to the #HeforShe campaign. As a former international tennis player, I run a free Tennis Boot Camp in Summers in NY to teach tennis to girls of all ages. In 2014, I was awarded the Pramerica Spirit of Community Award recognizing my volunteering of over 300 hours of work for my community. I was invited to the United States on full scholarship in 2014 at the Young Leaders Academy at United Nations & at MCW’s Youth Leadership Program at New York University. In 2015, I returned to the US on another full scholarship to the Hesselbein Leadership Academy of Civic Engagement at University of Pittsburgh and Mentored the 2015 MCW Youth Leadership Academy at Stony Brooks University of New York.
SheMag : If anyone wants to stay in touch with you, what’s the best way?
Sameeksha Katyal : The best way is to write to me through my website visit www.sameekshalav.com or and for details follow my Facebook page & Instagram at @sameeksha.lav